Women: Answer to hunger in Africa

29 Mar

Women: answer to hunger in Africa

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By Wanjala Wafula

The world has been of late relentlessly barraged by three common news items with the prime being the dreary and nauseating world politics dominated by invasions of nations, a lunatic killing a hundred in Norway , the west’s  efforts to destabilize food sufficient Malawi, the dept crisis in Europe and America and the escapees of the mounting China. The second item has been the ravaging hunger in the horn of Africa with estimates revealing that over sixteen million people are starving to death. Pictures being beamed across the globe about the hunger situation in Africa are sickening to say the least. The third main item here in Kenya has been the bickering by politicians about their remittance of taxes as affirmed by the new constitution that was overwhelmingly supported by the same legislators. 

For me the priority for the world now is to sort out the hunger situation in the horn of Africa and Kenya in particular. I hasten to assert that women and children are the most affected as reports about the deaths confirm. Analysts recommend that the extent and scale of the food situation in the region is distressing and that urgent measures need to be undertaken to arrest the situation yet patchy governments led by Kenya remains unswerving to opinionated pettiness and sideshows. A picture of twins suckling their dead mother  now torment me each time I sit down to have a meal.

In the midst of the adversity, politicians and other stakeholders are passing the bucket even as others exploit the situation for the accustomed political expediency and mileage. The typical pretexts have greeted the food situation in the country with drought being peddled as the number one rationale. There is even hyped rhetoric about realization of the MDG’s in 2015 as well as the delusional Vision 2030 yet hunger remains a perennial episode in the country. What is startling to numerous analysts is the failure by the government and other stakeholders to address the ever missing link of targeting the real producers of food in Kenya who are women.

Today, there are leaders of nations who have successfully combated hunger. China, Brazil, Malawi and Vietnam, to name just a few, have done so by boosting government support to the smallholder farmers who grow most of the food consumed locally, implementing agrarian reforms, and establishing effective social protection programs. Not only is investing in smallholder agriculture the best way to beat hunger, it also has two to four times more impact on poverty reduction as investment in other sectors.

Discrimination against women is a hidden and insidious cause of hunger. According to the OECD, in the 21 countries where social institutions discriminate against women the most, malnutrition is nearly twice as high. In countries where women lack any access to credit, malnutrition is 85% above average. Where women lack the right to own land, it is 60% higher. Along with investment in agriculture we need to equalize women’s access to and control over productive resources and financial services.

Women bear almost all responsibility for meeting basic needs of the family, yet are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfill this responsibility. They make up slightly more than 52 percent of the Kenya’s population, but account for over 60 percent of the country’s hungry. In my view, women hold the key to a future free from hunger and poverty. This can be achieved by supporting women’s education, training them as business leaders, equipping them to become better farmers and eradicating the ever present enigma of gender based violence founded in patriarchy and manifested through negative masculinity. As mothers, farmers, teachers and entrepreneurs, a great deal hinges on their success. Evidence shows that with equal access to education, training and means, women can raise the living standards of their families and inject new life into the Kenyan economy thus actualizing the pre – independence trance of a “self sufficient” nation.

 

Women face extra risks and deprivations, as they are systematically denied their human rights to access, own, control or inherit land and property. They remain a minority (10%) of owners of land and housing and often face discriminatory customs, religious laws, and institutional practices that severely restrict their ability to gain and control such property. Women’s sustained depravity in terms of health related services and goods continue to deal a big blow to their efforts to render their families food sufficient. The situation is worse in cases where HIV is involved and specifically for families with people living with HIV.

Sadly, these conditions persist despite Kenya’s commitments under local and international law to secure equality for women. I submit that gender inequality, power dynamics in sexual relations and women’s lack of economic empowerment relate directly to current patterns of poverty manifested through the ever skyrocketing levels of hunger, poverty and inequality.

There is an imperative need to help women become business leaders. This can be achieved through providing space for women to play a key role in the decision making processes in the Kenyan society. Evidence shows that women in Kenya re-invest about 90 percent of their income back into their households compared to between 30 and 40 percent for men. Giving women the knowledge and skills they need to run successful farms and businesses is an efficient way to strengthen poor families and  enhancing the nutritional needs of the nation.

I have continually argued that we need to instantly help women grow more and better food. Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries, despite having less access to land and credit than men do. Providing them with the tools and the training they need to raise quality yields is one of the best ways to increase food production in Kenya which is prone to recurrent hunger.

The 2007 post-election violence affected thousands of female farmers in the most productive regions of the country with many of of them being battered, raped, maimed and killed. Women are particularly vulnerable in times of conflict, even as their role as providers becomes more important than ever. Easing their
return home by giving them the tools and training they need to rebuild can kick-start the recovery process for an entire community and the nation at large.

I recently watched a documentary from the hunger ravaged Turkana in which it was revealed that many women are denying themselves even that one meal to ensure that their children are fed. These women are already suffering the effects of even more severe malnutrition, which inevitably will be their children’s fate as well. What the women of Kenya need are not the infrequent food handouts mostly distributed by crestfallen politicians but a comprehensive rollout of initiatives and programs that are premised on empowerment and equality. To many of us, the women are the only sure avenue out of the perennial hunger situation in the world.

 The Writer is a Founder/Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys organizations committed to eliminating all forms of Gender based violence, foster HIV prevention and AIDS management in Kenya. Visit http://www.coexistkenya.com

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